Why is Emotional Awareness Important in Relationships?

How can emotional awareness improve communication in relationships?
on June 17, 2024
Read time: 10 mins
by Laura Caruso LMHC

When talking about emotional awareness, it’s not just a relationship skill — it’s a life skill. Being emotionally aware isn't just beneficial, it's essential.

In school, they might have told you that doing well in exams is the most important thing in life. However, studies have contradicted this argument, as traditional intelligence tests are not a reliable predictor of success in real-life situations, as they don’t reflect your emotional understanding. 

The smartest person in the world on paper could struggle to propel themselves through life, as true emotional intelligence runs so much deeper — affecting every interaction and relationship in our lives! 

What is emotional awareness? 

Everyday interactions, from big to small, trigger an emotional response. Understanding your emotional response to situations, as well as the responses of others, is crucial not only for your well-being but also for the health of all your relationships. 

Research defines emotional awareness as the ability to conceptualize and describe one’s own emotions and those of others. Originally made popular by Daniel Goleman, further study outlines how emotional awareness combines the awareness of our emotions with the ability to use them to enhance our thinking. 

According to these theories, there are five key characteristics of emotional intelligence — knowing our emotions, managing our emotions, motivating ourselves, recognizing our emotions in others, and importantly, handling our intimate relationships. 

These social skills are inherent in the development of all relationships, as this awareness enables you to process your own emotions and the emotions of others. After all, if you can’t recognize and understand your emotional response, how can you solve problems or correctly react to situations per your wants and needs?  

“Emotional awareness lays the foundation for a sustainable relationship,” says Laura Caruso, a licensed therapist, and relationship expert. 

“Often called emotional intelligence (EI), or emotional quotient (EQ), the ability to recognize, understand, and respond to emotions effectively contributes to a healthier, more resilient, and more satisfying romantic relationship.”

Without this framework, it’s impossible to recognize your own emotional states, regulate these responses, or have the ability to make informed decision-making in your relationships.. 

Importantly, without emotional awareness, it’s not only difficult to understand your own feelings but also the feelings of others. If you struggle with understanding emotions, you can’t enter social interactions with any degree of self-confidence — as you’re unable to read how your actions affect others. 

What are the 5 levels of emotional awareness?

According to the LEAS scale, there are five levels of emotional awareness;  

  1. Awareness of physical sensations

  2. Action tendencies

  3. Single emotions

  4. Blends of emotions (i.e., feeling multiple emotions at once) 

  5. Blends of blends of emotional experience

What is an example of being emotionally aware?

Emotional awareness comes in many different forms, as it applies to various situations and relationships. Whether it’s interactions with co-workers or with your loved one, knowing how to process both positive and negative emotions is of utmost importance. 

Lacking emotional awareness naturally affects all of your interpersonal relationships, as you can’t understand how others make you feel, or how you make them feel. 

This study walks through the key stages of emotional awareness, first testing one’s ability to identify the emotion and then interpreting what that emotion means to them. Do they have positive feelings toward that situation? Or does this trigger difficult emotions that they need to process? 

Based on these emotional reactions, the next step is assessing what actions should follow the emotion, before gauging how these actions will affect those around them. Finally, with the benefit of emotional self-awareness, you should be able to come to a comfortable decision. 

For example, imagine that you notice your partner is being quiet and distant, and naturally you recognize that you’re reacting with frustration. Instead of letting these negative feelings build up, you reflect on what these emotions mean and consider whether you’re feeling more concerned for your partner or if you’re frustrated because you feel neglected. 

Based on these considerations, you can enter problem-solving mode, with the social awareness you need to consider the best course of action for everyone. Should you bring it up with your partner? Or should you wait until your partner opens up by themselves? 

Once you have gauged how your next steps could affect your partner, you can proceed with your chosen course of action — armed with the emotional awareness to navigate a potentially stressful situation. 

How can I tell if I am emotionally aware?

While you might not be the best at expressing emotions, this is different from being unable to correctly process emotion. 

When trying to understand if you’re emotionally aware, or your level of emotional awareness, it can be difficult to look introspectively and judge your own emotional ability! However, on a simple level, you can tell if you are emotionally aware by regularly reflecting on your feelings and accurately identifying them.

In your relationship, can you understand why your partner's behaviors might trigger a particular emotional response? Instead of looking at a situation and examining your emotional reaction on a surface level, it’s about looking a little deeper. 

When you encounter a stressful situation, are you able to articulate why the situation has triggered an emotional response? Or do you go straight for a reaction? When you’re dealing with the situation, do you consider how your partner might be feeling? Or how they might feel if you react in a certain way? 

If you don’t find yourself recognizing and understanding both your own emotions and those of others, you might be lacking emotional awareness. 

Why is it important to be emotionally aware?

Being emotionally aware is fundamental to your development and growth, impacting your personal well-being, relationships, success, and more. 

Without emotional intelligence, it’s tough to make your way through the world, as you don’t have the necessary comprehensive understanding to propel you forward. Nor can you be adaptive in the wake of other people's emotional responses. 

If you don’t understand emotional regulation, you easily become overwhelmed, as you can’t manage your emotions effectively. Without processing emotions, you don’t have an actual understanding of how you truly feel about things — including your relationships. 

Ultimately, being emotionally aware helps us navigate life's challenges more effectively, leading to a more balanced and fulfilling life.

How does emotional awareness impact relationships and communication?

As we can say, there is a direct correlation between emotional awareness and relationships. Without self-control and self-regulation, it’s almost impossible to sustain healthy relationship dynamics or to communicate effectively

“Emotional awareness creates opportunities for couples to empathize when navigating difficult conversations, leading to deeper connection and an overall feeling of support, which greatly influences relationship satisfaction,” says Caruso. 

When you are emotionally aware, you can recognize and articulate your feelings, which leads to clearer and more honest communication. This ability helps prevent misunderstandings and reduces the likelihood of conflicts.

Additionally, emotional awareness allows you to empathize with your partner, enabling you to understand their emotions and see their perspective. This is why understanding your own emotions is only step one, as you also need to see past this and see how your actions affect the emotions of your loved one. 

If you reach a place of empathy for their position, even if it clashes with your own, this understanding fosters deeper connections and builds trust, as individuals feel seen and heard. 

By paying attention and being attuned to the emotional cues of those around you, you can respond appropriately, offering support and validation when needed. This responsiveness not only strengthens the bond in relationships but also creates a safe space for open and vulnerable communication.

By being emotionally aware, you can navigate the complexities of romantic relationships with higher levels of understanding and intelligence — channeling this understanding into healthy relationship behaviors. 

How do you develop emotional awareness?

Emotional awareness is not all about negative feelings, as it also helps process positive emotions — leading to a more fulfilling life. 

“Emotional awareness starts with the self,” says Caruso. 

“Your ability to self-reflect and acknowledge your own patterns without judgment will ideally translate to your relationship. Through introspection and clear communication, you can effectively overcome challenges with your partner.”

Admitting that you may not be super emotionally aware is a big step. Remember that working on yourself and developing emotional awareness is not only probable — it’s very achievable. 

According to research, emotional awareness can be viewed as a cognitive skill, that undergoes a developmental process similar to other cognitive skills. Meaning that it can be learned and developed over time. 

However, emotional awareness isn’t developed overnight, and it requires copious amounts of self-care to go along with all of the self-reflection. 

“Be gentle with yourself,” says Caruso. 

“Emotional awareness is a skill that requires time and patience to learn and can never fully be mastered. Remain open to feedback and let your relationship be a safe space for trial-and-error.”

According to Caruso, these are 10 ways to improve your emotional awareness 

  1. Take 5 minutes to reflect on your emotions daily. Ask yourself how you’re feeling and why.

  2. When you experience a ‘big’ emotion, write down your thoughts and feelings. This can help you identify patterns and triggers in your emotional responses.

  3. Practice ‘pausing’ an argument in the heat of the moment to check in with your emotions, then communicate how you’re feeling to your partner.

  4. Use techniques like deep breathing, counting to ten, or taking a walk to calm yourself during emotional moments.

  5. Regularly check in with your body to identify any physical signs of stress or emotion, such as tension or discomfort, and respond to it with deep breaths and gentle movement.

  6. Expand your emotional vocabulary by learning new words to describe your feelings. When in doubt: use a feelings wheel! This can help you articulate your emotions more accurately.

  7. Get in the habit of sharing your emotions with your partner, even if they are negative. Honest communication builds trust and understanding.

  8. Listen actively when your partner shares their feelings. Ask questions to help you better understand their emotional experience, then validate those emotions and show empathy.

  9. Ask your partner for feedback on how you express and manage your emotions.

  10. Consider seeing a therapist, either individually or as a couple, to work on emotional awareness and communication skills.

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